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'viz.:—-The Administration of the Law by Magistrates; a subject which, in our opinion, is highly deserving the attention of social reformers of all grades.
It maypeasily be ascertained from Mr. Oke’s very useful synopsis, and Mr. Arnold’s recent publication, that statutes, counted by hundreds, of all degrees of conflicting difficulty, and of every shade of doubtful interpretation, have been enacted for the especial guidance of magistrates. It is alleged that the catalogue of offences extends to two thousand on which magistrates have power to impose fines and terms of imprisonment, from the smallest sums up to £100, and from the shortest periods up to twelve calendar months: at quarter-sessions they have power to imprison for much longer periods, or to sentence to penal servitude for a period corresponding to transportation for fourteen years.
Writers on criminal law assert that there are five hundred offences indictable and triable, which must previously be investigated by magistrates at petty sessions. In addition to all this, there are numerous matters relating to wages, apprentices, highways, railways, turnpike-roads, church-rates, the poor-law and all its complicated rules, granting licences, cases of afiliation, appointing constables, overseers, hearing appeals against rates, &c., &c. In fact, the administration of the law, in everyday afcirs, is altogether entrusted to magistrates. In reference to law as its operation affects the masses of people, Justice law is infinitely more important than Westminster Hall law. The great body of the people pass year after year without hearing one word about the superior courts at Westminster; but they are on all sides surrounded by magistrates’ courts, in which are transacted the daily work of popular legal affairs.
What, then, are the requisite qualifications for the proper discharge of these complicated and weighty duties’? Before a magistrate is permitted to inflict his views of the multitude of intricate statutes, which partly form Justice law, upon his fellowcountrymen, what proof has he to give that he has ever read them, or, if he have, that he understands the scope and intention
of the legislature? Ere the Justice is invested with the appalling power to fine heavily his neighbours, or to incarcerate them for long periods, by what previous examination has he proved that he is qualified, mentally, legally, and morally, for the performance of such terrible duties, so vitally aifecting the liberties, wealth, and happiness, of Englishmen ? To all these inquiries, the only answer is-—n0ne whatever!
In counties, the only qualification for making a man a Justice is, an estate of one hundred pounds a-year, and some political interest of the right sort to get the candidate recommended to the lordlieutenant. This procures the Dedimus Potestatem, which always possesses the talismanic power of metamorphosing a bumpkin of yesterday into a worshipful J ustice-of-peace to-day, whose word is law, and whose fiat is imperative, and almost omnipotent. This all-powerful writ, in theory and practice, is supposed AT ONCE to invest the holder with a knowledge of intricate laws, and with practical skill of applying them, sufiicient to enable him to do justice and equity to his fellow-countrymen, whatever be the nature of the questions which arise between them ! The Dedimus Potestatem supplies not only the requisite knowledge of law, and the skill to apply it; but it also is a substitute for intellectual capacity, moral fitness, proper equanimity, and general probity. That writ, like a necromancer’s wand, is, theoretically and prac
tically, deemed suddenly to endue its possessor with all those
attributes so completely, that no questions of any kind, tending to test his competency, are ever put. The incipient Justice, in the general run, comes into the world like Minerva from the head of Jove, all-wise, all-perfect, and, at the moment, prepared for the discharge of his intricate and bewildering duties. Hitherto he may have been dull, nntutored, and vicious-it matters not. No questions are asked by his makers ; he is perhaps unexpectedly become so worshipful, that it would be a species of treason to hint that he is ignorant, or to raise doubts about his intellectual capacity or otficial fitness. Whether the new-made Justice be ignorant, and too old or stupid to learn; or whether he be young, and too conceited to perceive his incapacity and unfitness—it is all the same-—in each case he is a Justice; the community must take him as it finds him, and be thankful. It is not intended to imply that this is a correct pen-and-ink painting of the whole body of country magistracy ; on the contrary, there is among them a large number of high-minded men of talent, anxious to perform their official duties impartially and justly, and well qualified intellectually, and by acquirements, so to discharge them. But these praiseworthy exceptions must not be attributed to any merits of the system; they are the prizes in the lottery of wholesale Justice-manufacturing; they were appointed for exactly the same reason as their very numerous set of incompetent brother Justices were made; they are only gold nuggets which turn out luckily in the mountains of rubbish; they are units connected with a large number of ciphers, the drawback being, that the ciphers always diminish their value, and never increase it.
These remarks apply to the making of County Justices. But now we have Borough Justices, commonly made in batches of either Whigs or Tories, according as the one political party or the other happens to be predominant. About the very last man that ought to be made a magistrate, even if he were otherwise properly qualified, is a strong political partisan: whereas, with very few exceptions, political partisanship is the Borough Magistrate’s only qualification. A hard-mouthed party man, who is not scrupulous either in what he says or does, is generally the sort of man that claims the office, and quite as frequently the personage on whom the dignity is conferred. Even amongst magistrates made of such materials, occasionally well-educated and highly honourable men are found ; but it would he diflicult to pay deserving homage to the genius that concocted the scheme of making one set of tradesmen the judges in their rivals’ affairs-— to deal out their own J ustice-law to the keeper of the opposition shop !—to grant or refuse licences according as applicants have, or have not, a majority of friends on the bench, though their whole livelihood may depend on the chance work l Can hot partisans be just arbitrators to settle the differences either gf
former opponents or friends, or between the two? Notwithstanding the legal points depending upon nice and subtle application of evidence, which Borough Justices have officially to determine, no one attributes to them the least knowledge of law, or its application ; generally speaking, they are perfectly innocent of every perception of the kind.
It was remarked just now that the professional men, and many ofiicials, must pass an initiatory examination to test their intellectual fitness and knowledge of different subjects before they are allowed to possess, or to act upon, the object of their wishes; this was mentioned by way of contrasting the practice with that of making J ustices-of-peace. But there is another peculiar distinction between the two cases, as far as the general community is concerned, which diserves to be named. If aman be of any profession, it is quite optional with the public whether he be professionally employed or not. You are not compelled to take a doctor’s physio if you have no faith in his skill, and can put no confidence in his knowledge ; you are not obliged to engage a particular counsel or solicitor to conduct your suit, if you are pretty certain that he wants the requisite ability, or is deficient in probity. This is not the casevwith Justices: however ignorant or vicious they may be, they are appointed to administer what is termed law, and the public must endure the infliction; there is not even Hobson’s choice in the matter—that or nothing. These fountains of justice are authoritatively set up, and, whether pure or impure, the community is compelled to take what they give.
Westminster Hall and Justice Courts have already been mentioned. The greatest law reformer now in existence, some time ago thus contrasted the responsibility of the Judges of the highest courts with that of the Justices at sessions—-“The Judges of the land, chosen from the professors of the law, after the labours of a life previously devoted to the acquirement of knowledge calculated to fit them for their ofiice, are responsible for every word and act, and are subject to every species of revision and control. They were selected with the most anxious caution for
VOL. VIII. NO. XVI. x
every qualification of high character and of profound knowledge, and yet they are incapable of pronouncing a single decision from which an appeal will not lie to some other tribunal immediately above them; while from the decision of the country Justices——taken from the community at hazard, or recommended by the habits least calculated to make them just—subject to no personal responsibility, because beyond or below the superintendence of public opinion, and irremoveable unless by a verdict for some indictable ofi'e'nce—-from their decision there is no appeal-—f'rom their decision, although they have to deal with some of the most importantinterests in the country, there is no appeal.”
It was remarked above, that magistrates have a greater intluence'over'popular rights and liberties than all the professions put together. The celebrated author just quoted, says—“ It is through the magistracy, more than through any other agency-— except, indeed, that of the taa:-gatherer—that the people are brought directly into contact with the government of the country; and this is the measure of justice with which, when they
‘approach it, they are treated by functionaries irresponsible for
their proceedings. A Justice-of-the-peace, Whether in his own
"parlour or"on the bench, whether employed on summary convic
tions, or enforcing an act of parliament, is never an ostensible individual responsible in his own proper person to public opinion; hardly ever, unless he chooses by some indiscretion to make himself so, amenable to a higher and purer judicature.”
In answerto the allegation, that Justices of all kinds are put in ofiice without any regard to their legal or other qualifications for the ofiice it is said, that magistrates have a clerk, who is generally a lawyer, to direct them in law and other matters. But the clerk has no responsibility ; he may, moreover, have his partialities or his prejudices to gratify. But, admitting that the clerk performs his post uprightly towards his employers and the public, can the practice be justified, that the dispensers of varied laws to the public must depend on their servant for all their legal knowledge? The very idea of such a division of labour implies a censure on the sagacity of Englishmen for permitting it at all; the actual